- Historic Sites
“Good Evening, Everybody”
An Interview With Lowell Thomas
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
I suspect my thoughts on that changed from time to time—gold mining, the law, but mainly something to take me to all parts of the world. Looking back I think what I wanted when I went away to college was to get away from my father; out from under his thumb. Not that he was all that hard on me. He was always patient and understanding. I had worked in the gold mines in the summer, and sold newspapers in the gambling halls and to the daughters of joy in the brothels. I guess I thought I’d had enough contact with life that I could get along on my own. That’s a temptation nearly every boy has to face. Later, when I returned to Colorado, I found that my two degrees made me eligible to work with a pick and shovel. So I again went to work on a gold mine. Then I had good luck. George Khyner, owner of the Victor Daily Record, remembered me. I had distributed papers and run a folding machine in his press room. Now Khyner asked me to take over as editor. It was a lively twelve-page daily paper. His veteran manager, “Honest John” White, coached me at first. I suppose it was the ideal training, because I had to write half the paper, do the heads, the layout, take the national and foreign news over the telephone from a United Press editor in Denver, handle local news, and even write most of the editorials. At the end of a year or so, and after helping launch another daily paper, I decided I had reached the end of the line. Also I must have figured I needed more education. So I went down to the University of Denver where I got two more degrees and worked on the Denver Times. After the year in Denver, still not certain what I wanted to do, I decided to go on to Chicago and study law. By then I had had more experience with public speaking and knew that could be important, especially if you were a trial lawyer or if you entered politics.
…I had made the mistake of colliding with the football coach. … He threw me down a flight of stairs, and I was expelled from school.
In Chicago, you continued what seems to be a lifelong habit of doing a number of different things simultaneously.
Too many things. A full day’s job on a newspaper and law school at night should have been enough. But after I had been at the Chicago-Kent College of Law for only two weeks, the dean called me in and said they had lost the head of their speech department. He asked me to fill in until they could find a replacement, which they never did. As I remember it, I was a year younger than any of the men under me in this night school. It was quite an experience, but I was working so many hours that I tried to get others to do some of it for me. Being with a newspaper made it fairly easy for me to lure prominent lawyers to the law school. One who helped several times was the great trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow.
What was Darrow like?
He was fantastic. A gifted public speaker, as you know. He knew how to get the attention of an audience and then hold it. I remember one night he started off by saying “all lawyers are crooks. ” This to a thousand law students. Then he spent the next few minutes proving it, and pointing out how there is good and bad in all of us.
After touring Alaska with a heavy, early-model motion-picture camera, you abruptly decided to give up your schooling and job in Chicago. Why?
Later, after you left Princeton to accept an assignment from members of President Wilson’s Cabinet to carry out a mission in Europe, Silas Strawn helped you raise one hundred thousand dollars from eighteen Chicago millionaires to finance the project. Do you believe in luck?
I do indeed. But as we all know luck can be affected by many things—over some of which we may have little or no control. Being at the right spot at the right time, for instance. Or if you are shot at and the bullet goes through your hat and not through your head, that’s luck. I had that happen. Perhaps it also helps if, like me, you are a born optimist. Yes, luck is important, and maybe I’ve had more than my share.